July 1981


Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Brendan Hughes: Ending the 1980 Hunger Strike


Risking the Lives of Volunteers is Not the IRA Way

Brendan Hughes • Irish News, 13 July 2006

In a recent BBC documentary Bernadette McAliskey stated that she would have let Sean McKenna die during the 1980 hunger strike in order to outmanoeuvre British brinkmanship. Implicit in her comments was a criticism of those senior republicans who decided against pursuing the option favoured by Bernadette. As the IRA leader in charge of that hunger strike I had given Sean McKenna a guarantee that were he to lapse into a coma I would not permit him to die.

When the awful moment arrived I kept my word to him. Having made that promise, to renege on it once Sean had reached a point where he was no longer capable of making a decision for himself, I would have been guilty of his murder. Whatever the strategic merits of Bernadette’s favoured option, they are vastly outweighed by ethical considerations.

There are terrible things that happen in the course of any war. Those of us who feel obliged to fight wars must take responsibility for the terrible consequences of the actions that we initiate. I can live with that. In war we kill enemies and expect to be killed by them. I can stand over the military decisions that I made during our war against the British. But there are no circumstances in which I was prepared to make a cynical decision that would have manipulated events to the point where a republican comrade would forfeit his life

25 years on, I have no reason to change my mind that the decision I made to save the life of Sean McKenna was the proper one. Faced with similar circumstances I would do the same again. History may judge my actions differently, but preventing Sean McKenna from becoming history, rather than my own place in history, was my prevailing concern.

Category: 2006, Brendan Hughes, Former Hunger Strikers, Media, Statements, The Blanket

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  1. […] As he wrote in a letter to the Irish News, 13 July 2006, “Risking the lives of volunteers is not the IRA way&… […]


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A day-by-day account of the events of early July, 1981.

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